i met luminous canadian actress molly parker, who plays a main character in deadwood and may be known to some of you through that show, in marion bridge, an equally luminous, if painful, 2003 canadian drama of family, abuse, and endurance. since i found molly parker stunning — she is, yes, beautiful, but she’s also an actress who can convey a whole depth of feelings with just the way she looks — i went looking for other films of hers and saw last night wayne wang’s 2001 leaving-las-vegas-remake(of sorts) the center of the world, based on a story by wang, miranda july, paul auster, and siri hustvedt.
this is a film designed for those who like motels (or hotels, which in america are much the same thing). i do. simon doesn’t. i attribute to this fact and this fact only that after 20 minutes he was so bored with this film that he left me to watch it alone.*
richard, played by peter sarsgaard, is a scruffy young techie who has made millions with a dot-com outfit and has no one to spend them with. florence (parker) is a drummer by day and a stripper by night. richard meets florence in her nighttime persona, falls for her, and proposes that they spend three days in vegas. florence finds the idea ludicrous, so richard, who is at heart a big kid with a lot of cash, offers her 10 thou for her company. florence sets her limits: no mouth kissing, no fucking, separate rooms.
at first richard tries to turn their stay into a holiday, but the results are rather desultory, at least for florence and for us, because richard seems as happy as a child at disneyland, oblivious to the sordidness of the situation, enthusiastic about everything, in love like a doe-eyed teenager. during a roller coaster ride richard laughs merrily while florence looks exactly as bored as you know she’s going to be when she’ll perform at night. at 10 pm she makes herself up and does her stripper routine, which is meant to last exactly till 2 am. the claustrophobic setting of the hotel room dominate the film after the initial roller coaster ride. the scenes in vegas are intercut with black-and-white scenes from richard and florence’s earlier meetings at the nightclub. florence keeps her side of the deal and performs very sexily at the appointed time, while sleeping or looking bored and wary during her off hours. richard is consistently happy, uncritical, and able to sleep like a child. there’s a bit of suspense from halfway on about whether florence will fall for this silly boy and his naive charm, or whether she’ll retain her jadedness and boredom.
the sexual and psychological tension between richard and florence kept me entranced. the film is unrated, but if it were rated it would surely get an x. there’s some explicit female nudity and a lot of explicit sex, though little to no male nudity. the center of the world is florence’s vagina, with its allure and prohibitions. there is nothing, though, that this vagina can do to make these two people connect. unlike the characters of leaving las vegas, richard and florence are very much regular kids. they have their passions and then they have their jobs, which neither of them particularly enjoys. wang shows the ways in which sex coats relationships with an aura of intimacy that is very hard to resist. it smears intimacy all over the surface of the body, makes you smell it and taste it, and you think you are there, that you’ve got it, that there is something, love, between you and the other person. but all you have is a stuffy hotel room with acrylic spreads, expensive minibar drinks, and windows that do not let in fresh air.
films explore the nature of intimacy, love, and closeness all the time, but, maybe because i like hotel rooms and the promises they always raise and always disappoint in me, this spoke to me (another film that also takes place in a hotel room and deals with these same issues is the very good conversations with other women). with a lesser cast the center of the world would be sleazy, but parker and sarsgaard are such good actors, they convey beautifully that whole tangled mess that are the frustrations of desire, the complexities of human connection, and the longings of the heart.
* i have often wondered: are simon and i the only group of two, one of whose members is a contributor to this blog, who consistently, even inescapably, watch movies together? it is extremely rare that we watch movies separately. it is, in fact, so rare that when one or the other is not at home, the at-home one refrains from watching anything. yet, from some of your posts, i detect that this is very much not the case for you. i wonder why.